How to stop having social anxiety sounds like the name of an infomercial. I can picture it now… a man is trembling and shaking… cut to the “stop social anxiety now” cure. This revolutionary cure will only cost you $14.99. But wait, if you order now, you can get two social anxiety gizmos for the price of one. If only such a gizmo existed, social anxiety would be a thing of the past–and someone would be very rich.
No, when we talk about how to stop having social anxiety, we usually talk about the known treatments. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication are the usual go-to’s, though these are not cures, they are treatments. You might relapse, you might not fully recover, you might… drop out… or never start in the first place.
The truth is that we still don’t have a great way to deal with this problem, namely because it’s a social problem.
Whether you want to admit it or not, social anxiety will pervade every part of your life if you let it. That means that getting help is difficult. Making that phone call is difficult. Hopefully, if you are in bad shape, someone will make it for you.
What does that leave us with?
If you’re reading this, let me be clear that you can’t plug a hole in a sinking ship with a toothpick. If your anxiety is severe, then CBT and medication are likely necessary.
But if it’s moderate, or if you are looking to deal with some symptoms on your own, then trying to help yourself is not a bad idea.
Let’s start with your core beliefs about yourself. Usually in CBT, you work backwards from your anxious thoughts to figure out your core beliefs. While this is helpful, I think it is also helpful to fully grasp what a core belief is by thinking about how you view yourself.
We all go through life with certain perceptions of ourselves.
These tend to fall in certain domains, and might be known as personality traits such as those identified by psychologist Hans Eysenck.
I like to think that certain traits kind of stick with you.
For example, are you…
Passive or aggressive?
Friendly or unfriendly?
Intelligent or dumb?
Irresponsible or responsible?
Impulsive or inhibited?
Expressive or reserved?
Active or lazy?
Moody or happy?
Obsessive or laidback?
When I was doing some reading about imposter syndrome, I found it interesting that many who live with this problem (thinking that they don’t belong in their job/position despite many achievements) grew up with a sense that they were not intelligent. While I can identify with many of the aspects of this syndrome, this one hit me squarely in the wrong way. Nope, I never thought that, because nobody told me that. I thought I could achieve anything I set my mind to. That was not one of my core beliefs.
Which was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. Because I realized there were other areas of my life in which that was not true. Shouldn’t I feel confident in all areas that I can be the best me? What was holding me back?
I did not even realize that I held core beliefs about not being “good” at certain things.
I was never good at sports. I never expected to be good at sports. That is one of my core beliefs.
Translate that to social anxiety, what were you “never good at” as a child? What did you “never expect to be good at?”
Dig into those questions and you will get at those core beliefs.
But here’s where it gets tricky. They are so ingrained in us that we take them as true.
I never questioned whether I could ever catch a baseball. I just assumed it was impossible. Still to this day, it seems impossible to me.
What seems impossible to you? Identify those things, and you will see where you are being held back.
Now here’s the shift—imagine, just for a moment, that you could wipe that slate clean. You are a completely clean slate with no preconceived notions of who you are and what you are like. If you start from scratch, can’t you build anything? Have you been trying to build a house on a crumbling foundation? You can’t do it. The house will never be sound.
Wipe out those core beliefs.
Every day this week, tell yourself, “I am a clean slate.” Imagine a giant eraser rubbing off the words that haunt you or point out your weaknesses. This sounds ridiculous I know. Just try it.
Oh and by the way..
In 2017, a study was conducted to develop and validate the Core Beliefs Questionnaire (CBQ). This scale had three versions: Trait version, Contigent version (beliefs related to specific situations), and Other version (beliefs about how others view you). What was found was that scores on the three tests decreased from before treatment to after treatment for social anxiety disorder. This means that core beliefs are changed through treatment. If you can get at these beliefs and change them, you might see the same effects.
Until then, I’ll keep trying to catch that baseball.
Wong QJJ, Gregory B, Gaston JE, Rapee RM, Wilson JK, Abbott MJ. Development and validation of the Core Beliefs Questionnaire in a sample of individuals with social anxiety disorder. J Affect Disord. 2017;207:121-127. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.09.020.